In response to the problems I have noted in Thesis #1 and Thesis #2, many readers are offering solutions, but I do not believe that we can at this point pretend to have the answers to what ails the North American church. The fact of the matter is that as we look at the facts we can only come to one conclusion:
We need an...
EXTREME MAKEOVER - CHURCH EDITION
and we aren't talking about buildings!!!
The anemic witness of the North American church is part of all of our stories and is all of our responsibility. We are a people of unclean lips who live among a people of unclean lips. It is best for us simply to sit for a while in sackcloth and ashes and wait for wisdom. Leadership is needed. A word of clarity is needed. Such a word is a word that is most likely not spoken first with our mouths but is first spoken by our lives. To rebuild the age old wisdom, we must first live in the story of the new life for a season. Then, when our observable life is stunning, then we have the authority to speak to the rest of the body.
That being said, I would like to say a word about Marriage and the Evangelical.
Ron Sider in his book "The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience" notes the harsh reality of evangelical marriage. We the church need to let these facts weigh heavy upon our hearts. Please read the following!!!!:
In a 1999 national survey, George Barna found that the percentage of born-again Christians who had experienced divorce was slightly higher (26 percent) than that of non-Christians (22 percent).7 In Barna's polls since the mid-1990s, that number has remained about the same.8 In August 2001, a new poll found that the divorce rate was about the same for born-again Christians and the population as a whole; 33 percent of all born-again Christians had been divorced compared with 34 percent of non-born-again Americans—a statistically insignificant difference. Barna also found in one study that 90 percent of all divorced born-again folk divorced after they accepted Christ.9
Barna makes a distinction between born-again Christians and evangelicals. Barna classifies as born-again all who say "they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today" and who also indicate that they "believe that when they die they will go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior."10 In Barna's polls anywhere from 35 to 43 percent of the total U.S. population meet these criteria for being born-again.
Barna limits the term "evangelical" to a much smaller group—just 7 to 8 percent of the total U.S. population. In addition to meeting the criteria for being born-again, evangelicals must agree with several other things such as the following: Jesus lived a sinless life; eternal salvation is only through grace, not works; Christians have a personal responsibility to evangelize non-Christians; Satan exists. Obviously this definition identifies a much more theologically biblical, orthodox group of Christians.
What is the divorce rate among evangelicals? According to a 1999 poll by Barna, exactly the same as the national average! According to that poll, 25 percent of evangelicals—just like 25 percent of the total population—have gone through a divorce.11 Does it make no difference to evangelicals that their Lord and Savior explicitly, clearly, repeatedly condemned divorce?
"Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." Matthew 19:4–6 (NRSV)
Professor Brad Wilcox is a Princeton-trained, Christian sociologist who specializes in family issues. Wilcox has studied two sets of national data: The General Social Survey and The National Survey of Families and Households. The result? "Compared with the rest of the population, conservative Protestants are more likely to divorce." He also points out the divorce rates are higher in the southern U.S., where conservative Protestants make up a higher percentage of the population than elsewhere in the country.12
A story in the New York Times in 2001 underlined Wilcox's findings about the unusually high divorce rates in the South. In many parts of the Bible Belt, the divorce rate was discovered to be "roughly 50 percent above the national average" (italics mine).13 Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma pointed out the irony that these unusually high divorce rates exist in his state, where 70 percent of the people go to church once a week or more. "These divorce rates," Gov. Keating concluded, "are a scalding indictment of what isn't being said behind the pulpit."
Could it be that making a commitment to Jesus Christ makes no difference in the most important area of life - our relationship with our spouse? We can point to any number of causes. We can blame men. We can blame women. We can blame pastors. We can blame the world and the flesh and the devil. But none of this blaming will help us to turn these trends around.
The fact of the matter is this: People are going to church and going home and fighting and arguing. These people are not equipped with the tools to get themselves into a joyful marriage. Worse than this where is the church as these marriages fall apart?
My father always told me, "In the church there should be no broken fences". What this means is that if a single mother had a broken fence, the church would know about it and fix it. How much more is this principle applicable to the church??!!??
Pastor, did you visit a hurting couple today? Does your church have divorces where both members are church members? Does our churches have discipleship groups for couples? Is it working?
Before reading these facts, I must admit, I had no idea that divorce was so prevalent in the church
Do you argue with your spouse? Are you getting counseling from your pastor? Do you have an accountable relationship where people see and speak to you about your marriage?
Thesis #3: The church does not have a discipleship process that is effective to lead people into the Kingdom of God in their marriages. The church is not discipling married people in to the ways of peace and Shalom in the Home. The fact is that divorce is as common among believers as it is among non-believers. This lack of a discipleship process that is effective undermines the testimony that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation and that Jesus Christ is the savior from the bondage of sin.
The church must unite to solve these problems, or we cannot expect to be salt and light to our culture. The need for reformation is urgent.
Update: continue to Thesis #4 - A General Solution
And the sermon that was the result of this week's blogs.